Towards a Chinese Renaissance - Bring back the Chou
I always flinch when I use the terms ‘Chinese’ or ‘Chinese culture’ as these are not really apt terms – but I still resorted to such terms to explain the consequences of its contemporary manifestation. There are, actually, 2 versions of either, with one having its roots in the Chou era (prior to 221 b.c.) and the other, in the Qin-and-thereafter (post 221 b.c.).
For instance, when we speak of the history of ‘western culture’, there is also a duality in this. There is the ‘western culture’ after the Grecian period, and the ‘western culture’ that emerged with the Reformation, Renaissance, and Scientific Revolution that saw significant input from the Grecian period. So, whilst all that took place prior to the aforementioned events did certainly serve as an impetus for the said events, it was simultaneously a ‘backtrack’ to the perspectives of the Grecian period prior to moving on from that time. You could say that ‘space was folded’ to some degree after the west had sort of ‘lost its way’. However, it must be said that their moving on from the Grecian period did see them taking along much of the perspectives that had been gathered in the post-Grecian to pre-Renaissance period such as an ever-entrenched elitist system, and the economic evolution that saw the movement from feudalism to capitalism. So the current ‘western culture’ is more of an effort to fit Grecian democracy, etc, into the result of economic evolution. Quite confusing, and I’m still thinking about that.
Well, we can similarly think about the meaning of ‘Chinese’ and ‘Chinese culture’. There are two strains of ‘Chinese’. One, having its roots in its own ‘Grecian’ period that saw much intellectual versatility, and another that has its roots in the post-Qin period that saw its perspectival evolution being constricted by the Legalist authoritarian and monocultural view of things and being enforced later via a popular support base through the practice of Confucianism. You could say that the view of the ‘Chinese’ of today is not unlike the view we might have of ‘westerners’ or ‘western culture’ before the Renaissance. If the ‘Chinese’ of today, moved from being ‘the children of the Han’ to the ‘children of the Chou’, then the entirety of ‘Chinese culture’ might take another turn as did western culture after the Renaissance.
In efforts to ‘bring back the Chou’, there must be a critique of all things ‘post-Qin’ such as the singularity of perspective, the efforts to counter its consequences via coping mechanisms and perspectives turned into culture, etc, has to take place. It is only then that the consequences of the 'burning of the books' of alternative thought can be undone even if not one page of the said books are recovered. We have to keep in mind that the post-Qin mentality of 'doing one's best within bad conditions' can only makes sense if all other alternatives are eradicated. In other words, through post-Qin traditionalism, the 'books' are being 'burnt' with every passing day. Hence, the effort to critique post-Qin culture can itself be appreciated as a ‘Chou’ activity and can itself resurrect it via the mindset that created it.
"S/he who learns from better others, betters herself.
But s/he who learns to better oneself through self-critique,
enables others to better themselves through the lessons learnt from it."
After all, one of the hallmarks of the Chou was critical introspection which was later displaced by the unthinking traditionalism of the Qin and thereafter. So to critically introspect is the rebirth of the Chou. I find it quite ironic that I as an ‘Indian’ might be one of the first children of the Chou in this activity. After all, it was such an activity that gave birth to the period known as the ‘100 schools of philosophy’, and which saw the emergence of Legalism, Confucianism, amongst a host of other schools of thought. Thus, I'm certainly against the increasing resilience of post-Qin perspectives in 'modern times' - via, amongst others, the phenomenon of an 'asian democracy' that spurns an alternative approach to things - as this would give the people less reason to 'bring back the Chou' since the former is proving to be able to bring about economic affluence in tandem with the promotion of perspectives that is an affront to the conditions that gave birth to the '100 schools of philosophy'. If we were to take the Chou perspective, we could easily that this an anti-Chinese thing to do.
However, simply conforming to the west will not give birth to the Chou even if they were to take on all of the vibrancy that it can afford. Through critical cultural introspection, one will be able to clear ‘Chinese culture’ of all the debris accumulated after a one-way of thought was forcibly imposed on the Chinese people more than 2000 years ago, enable the rebirth of the Chinese people, or Children of the Chou, so that they may contribute the result of the said cultural self-critique to the existing perspectival arsenal of the planet. The last thing I want to see is just a simple mindless conformity to ‘all things western’. What I want to see is the addition of the Chinese perspective, borne of critical cultural introspection, and through which the Chou will be reborn, to the said arsenal of global perspectives. In that, we will be made richer perspectivally, and perhaps, even see what Chou perspectives can contribute to the resolution of problems others can’t.
I'll leave the reader with a statement by Confucius in his less Confucian moments, who, even though he made a mistake in promoting traditionalism where society had yet to reach an ideal or close to ideal stage, still valued the accumulation of perspectives as opposed to abiding by the tyranny of one.
"Zhou [Chou] could observe the two preceding dynasties. How exuberant its culture is! I prefer following Zhou."
So do I.